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Team Effort
GARY VAN SICKLE
August 23, 2004
Saving their best for last at Whistling Straits, Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley played their way onto a U.S. Ryder Cup side badly in need of their help
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August 23, 2004

Team Effort

Saving their best for last at Whistling Straits, Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley played their way onto a U.S. Ryder Cup side badly in need of their help

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The car was speeding south on I-94 late Sunday night, approaching Lake Forest, Ill., and the maze of suburbs, freeways and toll booths surrounding Chicago, when the cellphone rang. On the fourth ring the driver answered with a shout, "US-A! USA! U-S-A!" � Chris Riley, the newest member of the 2004 Ryder Cup team, was clearly also the most excited. When he learned that the caller was not a certain very important person, Riley couldn't help but laugh. "I haven't heard from captain [Hal] Sutton," he said, explaining his unique greeting. "I was waiting for his call." � Riley was on his way to the Windy City for a Monday-morning outing. Ninety minutes earlier he had left Whistling Straits in a somber mood that didn't match his usual Dude, Where's My Car? Southern California persona. He had been bummed as he nervously ran his fingers through his burned-blond hair because he was certain that the four-foot putt he had just missed on the 72nd green had cost him a berth on the Ryder Cup team and that call from Sutton.

Riley, 30, is not yet a big winner. In fact, he has only one Tour victory, the 2002 Reno-Tahoe Open, but he already is, with apologies to Brad Faxon, the best putter in the game. On Sunday, Riley had made "a ridiculous par," in his words, at the 223-yard par-3 17th after escaping a claustrophobia-inducing bunker left of the green and holing a clutch 20-footer. An adventurous 18th ended with Riley standing over that four-footer for par. "I would've bet the house on that one," said his caddie, John Wood. Make the putt, Riley figures, and he ends up tied at eight under par with Chris DiMarco, the leader in the clubhouse at the time, and he's on the Ryder Cup team. Miss it and he probably comes up short because Justin Leonard, then leading by one, appears likely to win and vault past him on the points list. A four-footer for the Tour's best putter? Riley missed. Dude, Where's My Par?

Minutes later Riley said, "There is no way Hal will pick me, which is fine. My wife [Michelle] is expecting our first child on September 17, the week of the Ryder Cup, so either way it's going to be a hell of a week for me."

Sunday was a hell of a day for all the Ryder Cup contenders who fought to the bitter end in the PGA Championship's tournament within a tournament. Riley packed up and left Whistling Straits before the tournament ended. On the road to Chicago he got a call from Michelle, who was at home in Las Vegas watching the PGA on TV. She gave Chris a play-by-play account of the three-man playoff--which, don't remind him, dude, he would've been in had that last putt dropped.

"She told me that Jim Nantz had said DiMarco and I were on the team," Riley said. "Then they come back from a commercial, and he recanted and said that if Justin Leonard wins, he's on the team and I'm not."

Confused by CBS's bad math, Riley stayed on the line until the playoff ended and Singh had won, but he still wasn't sure where he stood until he got a call from Wood. "He told me, 'Congratulations, way to play your heart out,'" Riley said. Then a reporter called and confirmed that DiMarco had finished eighth in the standings and Riley 10th, bumping Steve Flesch and Jay Haas, respectively, from the ninth and 10th spots.

"What a feeling--I'm so pumped," Riley said. "Just to be on the team is awesome, but it feels good to earn it. To make the team with Chad Campbell, my old UNLV roommate, and Tiger Woods, who I played with on the [1995] Walker Cup team--I can't tell you what it means. I'll be out practicing my four-footers tomorrow. Life is good."

The clutch performances from DiMarco and Riley provided a needed boost for a lineup that with the exception of Phil Mickelson (second in the final standings) is hardly playing its best golf. Woods (first) and Davis Love III (third) haven't lived up to their usual standards. Jim Furyk (fourth) and David Toms (sixth) haven't hit the same high notes since their wrist injuries. The hot streak of Kenny Perry (fifth) is a distant memory, Campbell (seventh) has been quiet since his Bay Hill win in March, and Fred Funk (ninth) has been playing with a rib injury. On Monday, Sutton made Jay Haas (12th) and Stewart Cink (14th) his two captain's picks.

Haas, 50, was temporarily knocked off the team a week after sinking a clutch putt on the final hole of the International to slip into 10th place. He got the call from Sutton a few hours after shooting a disappointing 77 to finish the PGA. "I didn't know what to expect," Haas said. "Hal said, 'We'd sure like to have you on the team.' I was waiting for the 'but.' Then I got pretty emotional."

DiMarco's PGA bounce-back was surprising considering how he had bottomed out a week earlier by blowing a big lead at Castle Pines. He turned to Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., who has also worked with Leonard. DiMarco spoke with Valiante every night during the PGA. "I was as down as I've been in a long time," said DiMarco. "I was questioning myself. He told me, 'It's not that you choked. You peaked too early.' He helped me a lot."

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